Why Does Oxygen Tubing Turn Brown: Unraveling the Mystery

Oxygen tubing is an essential component of oxygen therapy systems used by individuals with respiratory illnesses or conditions, like COPD or asthma. These tubes help provide a consistent flow of oxygen from the main source, such as an oxygen concentrator, directly to the patient’s nasal cannula. A common concern among users is the discoloration of the tubing over time, often turning brown.

This discoloration occurs due to a reaction between the oxygen and the plastic material of the tubing. When exposed to light, the chemical makeup of the tubing may change, causing it to turn brown. Additionally, factors like body oils, cosmetic products, and the environment can contribute to this change in color. The once soft and pliable cannulas can become firm and uncomfortable, possibly irritating the patient’s nostrils.

It is important for individuals using oxygen therapy to be aware of this occurrence, as it can impact the quality and comfort of their treatment. Regular maintenance and replacement of oxygen tubing are essential to keep the tubing in optimal condition and maintain effective oxygen therapy.

Oxygen Tubing Basics

Supplemental Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen therapy is a crucial treatment option for individuals suffering from chronic respiratory issues, such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis. Oxygen therapy is often administered using a nasal cannula, which delivers oxygen from an oxygen concentrator directly to the patient’s nostrils. The oxygen concentrator collects and concentrates oxygen from the environment, ensuring the patient receives the necessary amount for their specific health needs.

Oxygen Tubing Components

Oxygen tubing is an essential part of any supplemental oxygen therapy system. It consists of several components, including a nasal cannula, connectors, and tubing. The main functions of oxygen tubing are to connect the nasal cannula to the oxygen concentrator and transport the oxygen securely and efficiently to the patient.

The nasal cannula is a lightweight device that comfortably fits into the patient’s nostrils. It is designed to ensure minimal irritation and maximum comfort during therapy. The cannula is typically made from a soft plastic material, allowing the patient to wear it for extended periods without discomfort.

Connectors are found at both ends of the oxygen tubing, allowing it to be attached to the cannula and the oxygen concentrator. They are designed to ensure a secure and airtight connection, ensuring the oxygen flows efficiently without any leakage.

Tubing is the long, flexible plastic component that connects the nasal cannula to the oxygen concentrator. It is generally lightweight, easy to manage, and must be durable enough to withstand daily use. The tubing material is specifically chosen to resist kinking and to maintain a consistent flow of oxygen to the patient.

However, over time, oxygen tubing can turn brown due to a reaction between the oxygen and the plastic material. This reaction changes the tubing’s chemical makeup, especially when exposed to light, which can cause it to become discolored and less comfortable for the patient (source). To ensure optimal therapy and comfort for patients, it is important to regularly inspect and replace oxygen tubing and its components as needed.

Causes of Discoloration

Skin Oils and Bacteria

One of the primary causes of oxygen tubing discoloration is the interaction between the tubing and the user’s skin oils. As individuals wear their nasal cannula or face mask, the natural oils produced by their skin begin to deteriorate the tubing, specifically the nylon component. Over time, these skin oils absorb into the cannula and cause the tubing to turn brown1.

In addition, the presence of bacteria on the skin may also contribute to the browning effect. Bacteria can not only discolor the tubing but also pose a potential risk of infection for the user, which emphasizes the importance of proper and regular cleaning of the oxygen equipment.

Material Aging

Another contributing factor to oxygen tubing discoloration is the aging process of the plastic material. Prolonged exposure to oxygen can lead to a reaction between the oxygen and the plastic material, which subsequently changes the tubing’s color2. Material aging primarily occurs in rubber tubing and can be exacerbated by factors such as heat, humidity, and extended use of supplemental oxygen.

To minimize the discoloration and maintain the functionality of oxygen tubing, it is essential to follow proper care instructions. For instance, replacing the nasal cannula every two weeks3 and cleaning it daily with a clean damp cloth using plain water and mild dish detergent3 can be beneficial.

Moreover, users should avoid applying creams or lotions on their skin before using the supplemental oxygen, as these substances may cause a chemical reaction with oxygen, which could contribute to the tubing’s discoloration3.


  1. https://www.oxygenplusmedical.com/blogs/news/why-does-my-nasal-cannula-turn-brown
  2. https://mrdrinkneat.com/beer/why-does-oxygen-tubing-turn-brown
  3. https://www.oxygenconcentratorstore.com/blog/reader-questions-how-often-should-i-change-my-cannula/ 2 3

Cleaning and Maintenance

Regular Cleaning Procedures

To ensure the longevity and proper functioning of oxygen tubing, it’s crucial to establish a regular cleaning routine. Start by detaching the nasal cannula or oxygen mask from the delivery device, and remove any additional removable parts or tubes. Then, wash all the parts with warm, soapy water, using a mild dish soap 1. Afterward, rinse thoroughly using distilled water to avoid leaving residues.

Between cleanings, you can use alcohol wipes or disinfectants to keep the tubing and nasal cannula 2 sanitized. However, avoid using harsh detergents, clothes, or hand soaps while cleaning. Gentle cleaning with cotton swabs can help maintain the tubing’s integrity and prevent bacterial growth.

Preventing Bacterial Growth

Oxygen tubing should be replaced every 2 months to minimize the risk of respiratory and bacterial infections3. To make your nasal cannula and tubing last longer, soak them in a solution of warm water and a minimal amount of dish soap and white vinegar 3. Make sure to rinse the tubing and cannula thoroughly before allowing it to air dry.

Some additional steps to prevent bacterial growth include:

  • Replacing the tubing at least every two months or sooner if it becomes damaged or discolored
  • Always washing hands before handling the tubing and nasal cannula
  • Using a humidifier to control moisture in the room, which can help reduce bacteria growth

By following regular cleaning procedures and taking preventative measures to ward off bacterial growth, you can effectively maintain your oxygen tubing, ensuring it remains in optimal condition.


  1. https://blog.lptmedical.com/oxygen-equipment-cleaning-and-maintenance
  2. https://summitoxygen.net/how-clean-oxygen-concentrator/
  3. https://www.oxygenconcentratorstore.com/blog/making-your-nasal-cannula-and-rubber-tubing-last-longer/ 2

Infection Risks

Respiratory Infections and Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is a lifesaving medical intervention for many patients with respiratory conditions. However, the use of oxygen tubing can sometimes lead to an increased risk of respiratory infections. Patients who are on long-term oxygen therapy may be particularly susceptible to bacterial infections affecting their lungs and respiratory tract. This can be attributed to the accumulation of moisture and contaminants within the oxygen tubing over time1.

Another concern is the increased infection risk for healthcare workers involved in administering oxygen therapy to patients with viral severe acute respiratory infections, such as COVID-192. Healthcare workers must exercise caution while caring for these patients and adopt the recommended preventive measures.

Prevention Strategies

To minimize the infection risk associated with oxygen therapy, several preventive strategies must be put in place. One such strategy is the timely replacement of oxygen tubing and nasal cannula. It is advised to change the nasal cannula every two weeks or more often if it becomes visibly soiled, clogged or malfunctions3. In cases where moisture is visible or accumulating in the oxygen tubing, it should be changed to prevent mold and mildew, which may contribute to a respiratory infection1.

Another useful prevention strategy is adding an in-line water trap to the oxygen tubing system, which helps collect excess condensation and reduce the risk of bacterial growth1. Lastly, healthcare workers dealing with oxygen therapy should follow the established infection control protocols and wear appropriate personal protective equipment to minimize their risk of contracting infections from patients2.


  1. https://journals.lww.com/homehealthcarenurseonline/Fulltext/2010/04000/Preventing_Infections_in_Patients_Using.3.aspx 2 3
  2. https://www.pulmonologyadvisor.com/home/topics/critical-care/administering-oxygen-therapy-may-increase-infection-risk-in-healthcare-workers/ 2
  3. https://www.homecaremag.com/february-2020/dont-let-oxygen-concentrator-lead-infection

Equipment Replacement Recommendations

When to Replace Oxygen Tubing

It is essential to replace oxygen tubing and cannulas periodically to ensure optimal performance and maintain hygiene. For those who wear oxygen therapy equipment 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, it is recommended to change the nasal cannula every 2 weeks1. If you use the tubing and cannula for only half the day, like during nighttime, replacement should occur every 2 months2.

Regular inspection of extension tubing is also necessary to check for any damage or grime. While some types of extension tubing may last up to three months, others might require more frequent replacement3. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider and the tubing manufacturer’s guidelines for any specific recommendations tailored to your situation.

Types of Oxygen Tubing

There are various types of oxygen tubing available in the market, and each has its own unique characteristics:

  • Standard Oxygen Tubing: This is the most common type of tubing used for home oxygen therapy. It is typically transparent and lightweight.
  • High-Flow Oxygen Tubing: This type of tubing is specifically designed for use with high-flow oxygen sources. It is often green in color and may also have the tendency to turn brown over time4.
  • Curved Nasal Cannulas: These cannulas are ergonomically designed to provide a more comfortable fit within the nostrils, potentially reducing irritation.

Oxygen tubing may turn brown due to a reaction between the oxygen and the plastic material, which changes the chemical makeup of the tubing, especially when exposed to light5. While it is not possible to avoid this discoloration altogether, proper care and timely replacement can help maintain the tubing’s functionality and comfort levels.


  1. https://blog.oxygo.life/replacing-your-oxygen-cannula-and-extension-tubing
  2. https://www.oxygenconcentratorstore.com/blog/making-your-nasal-cannula-and-rubber-tubing-last-longer/
  3. https://blog.lptmedical.com/oxygen-equipment-cleaning-and-maintenance
  4. https://www.oxygenplusmedical.com/blogs/news/why-does-my-nasal-cannula-turn-brown
  5. https://www.megamedical.com.au/everything-you-need-to-know-about-oxygen-tubing/

The team at www.oxygenconcentratoradvice.com are experts when it comes to oxygen concentrators. We are dedicated to providing as much help as we can for people who are undergoing oxygen therapy and need help with oxygen concentrators. We research and immerse ourselves in the industry and are assisted by our team of medical experts.

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